McClatchy Newspapers Discover the Border Patrol's Swollen Staffing, but Not the Questionable Tactics That Have Resulted

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Joshua Huston
The McClatchy newspaper chain is the latest to catch onto the fact that there's something startling going on along the northern border. A piece picked up by The Seattle Times this morning draws attention to the huge increase of Border Patrol agents there and accusations by whistleblower Christian Sanchez that boredom rather than increased security is the result. But the McClatchy piece, like a CNN segment on the same subject last week, misses some of the most important developments.

As we wrote in a cover story last month, it's not just that the number of northern border agents has increased more than sevenfold since 9/11--from roughly 300 to nearly 2,300--it's what they're doing that deserves investigation.

According to numerous accounts provided to SW, agents seem to be stopping Hispanics at random and interrogating them--whether the immigrants are driving their cars, filling up at a gas station, or picking salal in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula.

Sanchez' testimony before a Washington, D.C., panel helps explain why this is happening. All those new agents need something to do, and apparently there aren't enough people sneaking in from Canada to fill up their time. So the agents appear to be going after an easier target--illegal immigrants already settled here.

But the agency's tactics--which have put more than one American citizen on the spot--are legally dubious since law-enforcement officers are required to have "reasonable suspicion" before stopping someone.

Then there's the matter of where the Border Patrol agents are operating. The Olympic Peninsula, you will note, is miles away from the Blaine border crossing. Likewise, many other areas in which the Border Patrol has established a presence--in New York, Maine, or Minnesota--are not part of what most people consider the "border." In their quest to stay active, agents have been reaching further and further into the interior of the country.

So far, much of the media attention on the Border Patrol has focused only on the Olympic Peninsula, where Sanchez is stationed. That's because of him, and a high-profile case involving a Latino salal-picker who drowned in the Sol Duc River while running away from Border Patrol agents.

It's an instructive case that we wrote about in our cover story. An investigator with the U.S. Department of Agriculture named Judy Estrada contacted SW last month to get more information about it. Estrada said a civil-rights complaint had been filed with her department, which encompasses the U.S. Forest Service. It was a Forest Service officer who initially stopped the salal-picker and called in Border Patrol agents, ostensibly to "interpret."

Yet, as we detailed last month, the story of what's happening on the northern border is bigger than the Olympic Peninsula. Several members of the state's Congressional delegation are starting to ask questions, according to the McClatchy story. "I don't want to prejudge, but it sounds like they might have a few more people than they need," U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said of the Border Patrol. Let's hope the powerful top-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee is taking a thorough, nationwide look.

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